When the chief executives of the United Way and for-profit Salesforce.com, a cloud-based software company, met at the World Economic Forum in Davos about four years ago, the conversation turned to how nonprofits and for-profits could work together on philanthropic endeavors.
“[They discussed] the need to develop a platform … that can connect corporations, their employees, nonprofit foundations, individuals in a marketplace where they can collaborate together on either global or local issues that they are passionate to solve,” said Nasi Jazayeri, chief technology and products officer at Salesforce.org, Salesforce’s nonprofit arm.
That meeting led to the creation of Philanthropy Cloud, a software that matches corporate employees to nonprofits in need of donations or volunteers. And now the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut is actively pitching the software to area companies in an effort to connect businesses and their employees to local nonprofits. It’s also using the partnership and technology to pivot it’s long-term business strategy.
The local United Way branch first introduced the Philanthropy Cloud platform to donors and partners at its annual meeting in March, said Maura Cook, director of community engagement for the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut.
“We’re in the process of doing demos now through June 30, so we’re talking with a lot of the workplaces that currently support our annual giving campaign,” Cook said.
While other for-profit companies have offered similar platforms, the partnership between a nonprofit and for-profit on a philanthropy-driven software sets Philanthropy Cloud apart, as does the backing of the United Way itself, Cook said.
“There are other technology companies that do this, but United Way is personally invested in [Philanthropy Cloud],” Cook said. “We’ve been an organization that’s committed to change for 94, almost 95 years. … Now we have the technology to really support and accelerate it.”
Philanthropy Cloud is Salesforce’s intellectual property, while the United Way acts as its marketing arm, recruiting businesses to use it. Businesses pay licensing fees for the software, which is split between Salesforce and the United Way.
While the United Way traditionally serves as a middleman between donors and nonprofits through annual giving drives, United Way Worldwide Chief Strategy Officer William Browning said the partnership with Salesforce is part of an effort to reshape how the organization engages with donors and charities.
“We’re moving away from a once-a-year transactional experience at United Way to one where we’re really looking to be a strategic partner with our corporations around the world,” Browning said. “Business is a vital factor in achieving philanthropic goals and outcomes.”
High level of personalization
Companies that buy the software are able to customize it to drive employees toward favored nonprofits and charitable causes, Jazayeri said. For example, employees can pick which organizations or charity campaigns appear in the “featured” nonprofit carousel.
But Philanthropy Cloud also uses Salesforce’s artificial intelligence software (dubbed “Einstein”), along with individual employees’ demographic information, geographic location and stated interests and skills, to suggest local volunteer and donation opportunities that would likely suit specific users.
For example, if a female user with tech skills is interested in gender equality, the software might show her opportunities to volunteer for, or donate to, nonprofits geared toward teaching coding and STEM skills to girls.
“Now you have a very high level of personalization based on geography, interests and skills,” Jazayeri said.
Currently, Philanthropy Cloud includes organizations listed in Guidestar, an online database that contains financial and other information on over 2.7 million nonprofits across the country, Cook said. Those organizations will soon be able to play a larger role in their messaging on the platform, Jazayeri said.
In the coming months, nonprofits listed on Philanthropy Cloud will be able to create their own fundraising campaigns, and target people of specific demographics, locations, interests and skills, Jazayeri said.
That will allow nonprofits to better tell their own stories, Cook said. But for now, the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut will remain focused on pitching Philanthropy Cloud to local companies. As that effort continues, Cook is bullish about the platform’s appeal to businesses, she said.
“It’s not just a technology platform, and it’s not just the United Way staff, it’s both combined,” Cook said. “The United Way is really uniquely positioned to work, to partner with workplaces on their corporate social responsibility goals and employee engagement in a way that a technology company would not be able to.”